Highland Fling 2012
My time of 5:24 placed me 19th in category (of 240, behind the winner's astonishing 4:35), and 100th outright (of ~750, winning time of 4:11 = same as posted lasted year, on an essentially identical 112 km course).
Pre-race nutrition consisted of 6:30 pizza and a few glasses of red. Anita and I were probably asleep by 9. Slept well with clear nostrils – usually a good sign. Awoke early and was numero uno in the coffee queue. Eyes in no probs. Hob-knobbed with Mr Welch (17th in Cat last year) pre-start. Nice bloke, and nice to get to know he who bested me in the solo a month before. Now I actually know what he looks like.
Started with the first wave and despite Mr Welch bolting from the gun I deliberately held it back and settled into a very comfortable rhythm mid pack. About half way through the first sector (27 km) I passed not only Mr Welch, who seemed to be struggling, but also Mr Adams (2nd in Cat last year) with a mechanical. I basically stuck to the plan of holding what I thought to be an honest but maintainable pace, and ended up rolling into transition in 1:04, 3 min quicker than last year but a whole lot fresher.
The middle leg (53 km) contains the bulk of the technical single track and the bulk of the climbing, and is traditionally where I blow up, usually before the mid-race feed. This year was different, however. The single track was a real joy to ride, mostly I think because my handling skills have improved to the point where I can comfortably hold position within the conga lines and not scrub off speed unnecessarily on every second corner – and not burn off energy unnecessarily. The climbs were a grovel, but I knew what to expect and dosed my effort accordingly.
The main technicalities and climbs done with, at the 70 km point (~3:15 in), still feeling comfortable, I unwittingly found myself in a group of about 6 containing some of the Masters category favorites, including Mr Adams, who had clawed his way back despite his mechanical. Adams made a dig to escape, but we brought him back on the windy high plains gravel road which runs from the 70 km mark through to the second transition at 80 km. This is where hubris kicked in. It suddenly occurred to me that I was at the head of affairs, and that If I played my cards correctly a high finish was assured. As we worked this sector I did my turns – enough but not too much, until one guy moved to the front and put in a particularly hard effort. Being next in line it was my turn to close the gap, which I duly did - painfully. But in doing so, just as contact was made, I suffered immediate and severe cramp in my right hamstring, to the point all I could do was stand. I couldn’t even turn the crank without it seizing again, despite one of the other guys giving me a push for some seconds to see if I could recover. Alas it was not to be.
About a minute passed before I could even pedal a proper revolution, let alone put some power down, and by this stage the group was out of sight. Hence, the last 5 km to transition was ridden at snails pace, downing a good dose of liquid on my back and waiting for the legs to come good. Just before transition Mr Welch caught me, and we had a brief chat before crossing the rail line, bottle filling, peeing and heading off again. Just minutes into the last 32 km sector the lead trio of Elite field riders came scorching past. I thought jumping on them was folly, so I didn’t, unlike Mr Welch, who obviously had the legs, and that was it – I didn’t see him till the finish.
To add to my woes, with about 28 to go the left knee pain which surfaced during the recent 24 was back, forcing me to ride a heavy gear out of the saddle for much of the remainder. This really pulled the wind from my sails, and I resigned myself to a painful and pedestrian finish. Even so, I managed most of the pinches on the “roller coaster” sector, and even managed to clean “broke-back mountain” for the first time, and still managed to enjoy the last bits of rocky hill-side single track before the final push to the line.
The Adams group rolled home in 5:09 – only good enough for 8th this year, and Mr Welch came home in 5:12 and 13th, almost the identical time and place as last year. My 5:24 was not quite the finish I was talking up, so I’m a little bit disappointed, but it was the best I could muster on the day, and I’m actually surprised I didn’t bleed more time over the last 30 km given the hydration/tactical screw-up, and knee complications in the last sector.
Otherwise it was a grand day out – perfect conditions. And in her first taste of the Fling, Anita even rolled around the “Casual Fling” course on her brand-spanking dually, only parking it once in the “great sandy desert” sector, and is keen to give the Half Fling a nudge next year.